How Do I Talk To My Child About Sexual Abuse?

The following post is written by one of our Criminal Justice interns, Holly, who has been interning with us since May.  Holly attends Central Michigan University and is interested in pursuing a career in the Human Service Field. 

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        As a parent or caregiver, we often feel we know our children like the back of our hands; that we are always prepared and always know what is best for them. With that being said, sometimes unforeseen circumstances unfortunately present themselves—and as an adult, we can even be caught off-guard. In these type of situations, it is important to remain as calm as possible in the realm of the child and to handle the circumstance with excess care.

        If child abuse is suspected, this can be a hard pill to swallow. However, giving the child courage to come forward will make all the difference in the long run. If a child feels they have a trusted adult who believes them and that they are not in trouble, the odds of them disclosing their story may be heightened. From there, closure and counseling can be provided to help the child begin their journey towards healing. 

        When a child has been sexually abused, there are often no physical signs. However, there are often evident changes in mental state and socialization. For in depth descriptions regarding the signs of child sexual abuse, check out one of our previous blogs. If you have great concerns about a child’s behavior and you think it may be linked to sexual abuse, this is a path that should be taken with extreme caution—tiptoeing preferred. To begin with:

1. Carefully and thoughtfully choose a time to bring it up. 

Make sure the child is in a space they are comfortable in, and at a time where they are not distracted. For example, asking your child in public may not be the right time and place, as they can feel out of place easily. In the home may be best, but at a time when they are not distracted by homework, siblings, a movie or anything else. A car may also not make the best place to confront the child, as there is no escape if they are not ready to share. Ultimately, choose a place you know your child will feel relaxed, and approach the situation in a conscientious manner. 

2. Your tone matters.

Although your body may be full of rage, confusion, stress and sorrow, if you come across as angry to your child they may become scared of the situation. Both body language and tone of voice should be considered, and try your best to keep it as consistent with your natural demeanor as possible. Be kind, let your heart do the talking and remember how important your child is.

3. Cater to your child’s vocabulary.

As a parent this can be an everyday task, but when asking your child about sexual abuse allegations, it is important to make sure they understand exactly what you are saying. For example, “touching” may mean different things to them even though you are trying to portray it in an uncomfortable aspect. Use words they understand, and try to keep it at their developmental level. This step goes hand-in-hand with having an empathetic tone-- tying back to speaking from the heart and out of concern.

4. Avoid judgement and blame.

If a child feels attacked when discussing sensitive context, they may be scared and confused. Instead of saying “Your behavior concerns me,” or “something you said worries me”, consider using “I” to establish your role. For example, saying “I am worried that you don’t like to sleep in your bed anymore”. Although a small aspect of a larger issue, it may help ease your child's emotions. 

5. Reassurance can make a world of difference.

If your child knows you will still care about them no matter what and that they are not in trouble, this can ease their pain and validate their feelings. They will know it is okay to come forward—in fact it is encouraged. They will hopefully feel like it is not their fault after reassurance is mutually established.

        Last but not least, it is important to be patient with the child. Although you may be eager for answers, they may still be processing. All you can do at this point is be comforting, know the signs and report it to either CPS and/or Law Enforcement. With that in mind remember that the CAC has trained professionals, so don't fret about getting all the answers on your own. It is best not to interrogate the child, just ask questions regularly and similar to the guidelines above. Try to not make promises you cannot keep, but most importantly remember that being a parent comes first-- for your child's health and yours.

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Where To Report:

911

Child Protective Services (855-444-3911)